Having a depressed child is a major concern for parents but it's confusing because it's often seen as an adult's disease. But the truth is ill-being and depression affect children and teenagers too. It's important not to forget it or you'll just ignore your child's depression. First I'd like to make a list of the symptoms to look for in your child's behavior in order to determine whether he's a depressed child. You may already have done that but it's never useless to repeat it:
- Irritability, anger, boredom
- Change in sleep, appetite, weight, concentration
- Not playful, isolated
- Behavior change in activities, relationships
- Outbursts, crying
- Low self-esteem, makes negative self comment
- Extreme fears, anxiety, paranoia
- Talks about death ("I wish I was dead/never born")
If those symptoms last more than 2 weeks, it is very likely a depression. Of course, knowing the cause will give you clues to change things. I'm talking about family members' conflicts that can make children feeling guilty and/or rejected. Do what you can to improve these situations if you feel it has something to do with this. The school and home environment of a depressed child have to be evaluated too. Some teachers, friends, can give an objective opinion on your child's behavioral changes. But there are things you can do and it goes without saying that starting to act upon your child's depression will make it shorter and prevent it to come back again. It has to be treated when the very first signs appear.
Here are the 5 steps to deal with a depressed child:
1. Reassure your child. He probably thinks he's crazy, not normal. Tell him that it's normal to feel deep sadness when we live difficult things but some of us have a disease that prevents them from recovering easily from that sadness. Give him the right to feel what he feels or he'll just hide his ill-being from you.
2. Never minimize what your child is going through. Objectivity doesn't matter, but only how he perceives things and feels about them. What seems small and unimportant to you can make a strong impression on your child and lead to depression.
3. Don't try to protect your child by hiding things. Always tell him the truth, with chosen words of course. Children can face pain sometimes better than us. Anyway, they don't like feeling betrayed or not trusted.
4. Talk about depression with him. Put words on it, explain how it works, what your child feels and why. It's a deep discomfort for a depressed child not to know what is happening to him. Choose your words, depending on his age but talk about it. When he'll know what he "has", he'll feel less guilty, less abnormal, and on the path to healing.
5. Get professional help (counselor, therapist) or apply a parenting method/program.
Medications won't help your depressed child. No good studies have been done on the subject and the FDA even state that antidepressant medications can increase the risk of suicidal behavior in children and teenagers.
parenting methods or programs, I'd like to tell you that they can be an
excellent alternative to counseling. Much cheaper too and as efficient
if not more. It did help me. You need a coherent parenting style, good communication skills and a deep understanding of your relationship with your child. That's what a method provides. First they give hope, then they give results. And results is really what you need because I know how it hurts to feel clueless and powerless with a child who feels lost. (check the resource on the author info box on the right).